Downing Street has rejected a formal diplomatic request to discuss fears about deporting ‘Windrush generation’ migrants from the UK as anger grows over the uncertain status of potentially thousands of British citizens.
Reports suggest that many who answered the call to come to the UK to work in essential services in the 1950s and 1960s are being denied access to state healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.
While a Government minister has said the Home Office has “no intention” of deporting people often brought to the UK as children, the Government has rejected a request by 12 Caribbean countries to have the topic covered at a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOG) in London this week.
Guy Hewitt, the Barbados high commissioner, told The Guardian: “We did make a request to the CHOGM summit team for a meeting to be held between the prime minister and the Commonwealth Caribbean heads of government who will be here for the CHOGM and regrettably they have advised us that that is not possible.”
Downing Street reportedly confirmed the request and that a meeting had not been scheduled, but that officials said there would be “a number of opportunities” for delegates to meet Theresa May to discuss this “important issue”.
An online petition calling for an amnesty for those who arrived in Britain from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean as children following the Second World War has now attracted more than 100,000 signatures and could trigger a debate in Parliament.
Church of England bishops and Caribbean diplomats have condemned the Home Office’s treatment of many long-term Commonwealth-born UK residents.
In response to the outrage, immigration minister Caroline Noakes has moved to ease the “anxiety” - and acknowledged the issue has arisen from newly-tightened immigration rules so NHS treatment and housing is available to ”only those with a legal right to live here”.
In a blog for The Voice newspaper, immigration minister Caroline Noakes wrote: “I know that there is a growing sense of anxiety among some people in the Windrush generation, who came here from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, about their immigration status here in the UK.
“These are people who have built a life here, and who in turn have made a massive contribution to the life of this country.
“I want to give them some reassurance, because we have absolutely no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here.
“The overwhelming majority of the Windrush generation already have the immigration documents they need, but some – through no fault of their own – have not.
“Those are the people we are working hard to help now.”
After reports of the rejected request emerged, David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “Awful. I won’t let them get away with this.
“Our (Government) invited the Windrush Generation to Britain as citizens to rebuild our country in the wake of WWII.
“That these individuals are being treated with such contempt, disrespect and lack of dignity is shameful.”
LBC presenter Iain Dale tweeted: “It is a total and utter disgrace that people who have devoted their lives to this country are being treated in this reprehensible manner.”
Seth George Ramocan, the Jamaican high commissioner, said he would raise the issue despite the lack of a formal meeting: “We have senior citizens in limbo. It is not explicitly on the agenda, but we want our heads of government to bring it to the attention of the wider body.”
The Guardian has highlighted a number of cases of people being threatened with deportation, notably people who were born in the Caribbean and came to the UK as children in the 1950s and 60s and have never formally naturalised or applied for a British passport.
The problem stems from a decision 70 years ago to invite “British subjects” of former colonies to come to the UK to work in essential services.
Many left the Caribbean when their islands were still British colonies and considered themselves to be British.
Between 1948 and 1973, about 550,000 West Indians - or nearly 15% of the population - migrated to the UK. They were dubbed the ‘Windrush Generation’ after the ‘Empire Windrush’ ship that bought many to the UK.
If they moved to the UK before the 1971 Immigration Act, they had the right to remain.
But the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted right to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for many to now prove they are in the UK legally.
Around 50,000 who are still in the UK may not yet have regularised their residency status, according to information from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.